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No. 8 Gonzaga, No. 13 Butler ready to square off

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No. 8 Gonzaga, No. 13 Butler ready to square off

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Gonzaga served as the model program for college basketball's non-power conference schools for more than decade.

Butler took that blueprint, revised it and came up with even better results.

On Saturday, college basketball fans will finally get to see America's two biggest little schools play each other at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse with all the trimmings: A prime-time tip and a national audience on ESPN.

``You talk about the Final Four, bucket list. You talk about Maui (Invitational), bucket list, Preseason NIT, bucket list,'' Butler coach Brad Stevens said. ``So when (College) GameDay comes to town, you play when they tell you to play.''

The showcase also happens to pit two of America's best teams, No. 8 Gonzaga and No. 13 Butler, and both are on a roll.

Two-time national runner-up Butler (15-2, 3-0 Atlantic 10) has won 12 straight since losing to Illinois in Maui two months ago. It has already upset then-No. 1 Indiana and then-No. 9 North Carolina, as well as three traditional A-10 front-runners in St. Joseph's, Dayton and Richmond. It has beaten teams from the ACC (North Carolina), Big East (Marquette) SEC (Vanderbilt) and two Big Ten schools (Indiana and Northwestern), none of them at Hinkle.

A win this weekend would make this the first Butler team to beat three top 10 teams in one season.

One thing fans won't see is Butler's top scorer, Rotnei Clarke, who will miss his second straight game with a severely sprained neck. It didn't bother them in Wednesday's 62-47 win over Richmond, and the Bulldogs insist they won't do anything different Saturday, either.

``It's just our next game,'' said 7-foot center Andrew Smith, the only active college player to start in two national championship games. ``They're a great team, but we'll play just as hard as we always do.''

The Zags, meanwhile, are making a cross-country journey less than 48 hours after playing at Portland.

Gonzaga (17-1, 4-0 West Coast Conference) has won eight straight, is off to the best start in school history and has its own laundry list of big-time wins. The Zags have beaten Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia of the Big 12, Clemson of the ACC and Washington State of the Pac-12. Like Butler, Gonzaga's only loss came to Illinois.

Unlike Butler, the Zags have never reached a Final Four and haven't played in a regional final since 1999.

Maybe that will change in 2013. These Zags are big, strong and deep as Portland found out when 7-foot center Kelly Olynyk, the WCC's top scorer, spent 14 minutes of the first half on the bench because of foul trouble. Gonzaga still won 71-49.

``They have the No. 1 frontcourt in the country,'' Portland coach Eric Reveno said after the game. ``We forced them to go to Plan B, and their Plan B is almost as good as Plan A.''

What Butler and Gonzaga have done goes far beyond their campuses.

Both have consistently brought in players who fit their systems rather than Top 100 recruits, and they manage to keep those guys around campus long enough to develop their talent. And they did this while scheduling the big boys of college basketball.

Other non-BCS conference programs took the cue and wound up with similar results.

A glance at this week's Top 25 shows Creighton at No. 12, San Diego State at No. 15, New Mexico at No. 19 and Virginia Commonwealth at No. 22. Another Missouri Valley Conference school, Wichita State, was ranked last week.

George Mason, VCU and Butler have all made Final Four appearances in the past decade. Ohio University of the Mid-American Conference came within a whisker of upsetting North Carolina and going to the regional final last season.

With all these non-traditional teams in the Top 25 now, it could happen again.

And the mantra, from Indianapolis to Spokane, Wash., to Omaha, Neb., sounds the same.

``We'll play anyone anywhere as long as they'll come back to Omaha,'' Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. ``Gonzaga isn't playing anyone anywhere without a return trip unless it's on a neutral floor somewhere. That's something we'd be open to do as well. We have got 17,000-plus coming to our games. We've got to play some home games. We owe that to our fans. We'll continue. ``

McDermott acknowledges he's reached out to Butler and Gonzaga but has not yet been able to get either on the schedule.

Gonzaga won last year's meeting with Butler 71-55, and Stevens did have some second thoughts about keeping the second straight meeting on the schedule.

``We scheduled this before we were in the Atlantic 10 and when I looked at the schedule in September, I thought, `I'm an idiot,''' Stevens said. ``I should have scaled it back.''

He didn't, and college basketball fans might get to see one of the best games all season.

``We have unbelievable respect for Gonzaga and it has been that way for a long time,'' Stevens said. ``But we're going to do what we do. We have half a season still ahead and we have to do what we do.''

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AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Omaha, Neb., contributed to this report.

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

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USA Today Sports

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.

RELATED: OVECHKIN HAS LITTLE DESIRE TO WATCH 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS

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Need to Know: The Redskins appear to be set at center

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Associated Press

Need to Know: The Redskins appear to be set at center

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, February 21, 21 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

The Redskins appear to be set at center

Originally published 12/19/17

Chase Roullier might have been the Redskins’ fourth choice to play at center this year. But he could be snapping the ball for Washington for a long time.

Kory Lichtensteiger, the starter for the previous three years when healthy, retired. Veteran backup John Sullivan departed as a free agent. Spencer Long started six games this season before knee and quad problems pushed him to the sideline, elevating the rookie Roullier into the starting lineup.

The sixth-round pick started three games before breaking his right hand at some point during the game against the Saints. That’s his snapping hand and him finishing that game was an underrated act of courage this year. But he was out for three games before returning against the Cardinals on Sunday. Jay Gruden was pleased with his play. 

“Chase did good. He did good,” said Gruden. “It was good to see him back in there. His snaps were outstanding and handled the calls and play well.”

That was good but standard praise. What was interesting was what he said next.  

“I like Chase’s progress right now,” he said. “I think he is going to be a very good center for a long time here. It was a great pickup for us in the draft.”

It appears that you can at least pencil in Roullier as the 2018 starter at center, if not put him in with a Sharpie.

Where would this leave Long, who is slated to be a free agent in March? The Redskins could let him walk and go with the younger and cheaper Roullier. They also could sign him to be their starting left guard. That job has belonged to Shawn Lauvao. But Lauvao also is a pending free agent and he is 30 and he has missed large chunks of two of the last three seasons with injuries. When he missed the last 13 games of the 2015 season, Long went in at left guard and played well.

If that happens, that would give the Redskins a starting offensive line consisting entirely of players drafted by the team and with only Trent Williams over the age of 27 in Week 1 of 2018.

Regardless of what happens at left guard, it looks like Roullier will be the man in the middle for 2018 and beyond.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 8
—NFL Draft (4/26) 64
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 200